This weekend, the Kente Royal Gallery, one of the only African American owned galleries in New York City is hosting its Women’s History Month exhibition, highlighting the art of Daryl Myntia Daniels. We got in touch with the curator of the gallery, Dodji Gbedemah, and, as you will see, we learned a lot about the gallery and its impact in the Harlem Community
Why Was Harlem The Perfect Location For The Kente Royal Gallery?
I used to work in Chelsea for over 20 years, and one of my favorite pastimes was to visit art galleries throughout the neighborhood. But, the more galleries that I went through, the more I started to ask myself “why are there not many black owned art galleries throughout New York City?” And, I learned that there are about 1500 art galleries in New York, but these galleries are only 1% black owned. I was shocked. In a city that held Harlem, the historic site of the Harlem renaissance, one would expect there to be many black owned art galleries. This was one contributing factor to the decision of placing our gallery in Harlem, but I also feel connected to the neighborhood through the Church. I am a member of the Abyssinian Baptist Church, and, as a result, I became conncted to the community.
What Art Styles Do You Feature And How Do You Pick Who You Feature.
Our vision is to connect the African diaspora to the United States through art. And so, we feature many African American, afro-latin and others who are of African descent, to create this connection and representation in the art world. We mainly focus on this group because many are unable to obtain the platform to showcase their work. But, even if they are not apart of this group, we will still take them in with open arms. And, with this idea in mind, we do not focus on art style, and we often have many styles – sculptures, quilts, figurative art, e.t.c.
What Is Your Long-Term Goal?
Our long-term goal is to see emerging artists come through our gallery and go on to do bigger and better things. We want to be a launch station for their careers, being a community based gallery that can help ground their work, when other galleries will not give them the chance. We also want to guide and support them in their work. As I have said earlier, we want to give a platform to artists who are unable to find one, and if that requires high investment on our part, we are happy to provide it.
What Do You Hope For Visitors to Learn From The Gallery?
We are big supporters of community education. One of our key contributors, Reverend Calvin Butts of the Abyssinian church, is very big in community building, and he was key in helping us find a space for our gallery, under the premise of education. We want to educate the community and we want to expose our culture to the residents of Harlem. I was born West Africa, and I wanted to in connect the African continent and the African diaspora and show that blend of culture to the community.
Could you tell me about your new Exhibition?
Our exhibition highlights Daryl Myntia Daniels, a young african american woman from Ohio. She got her masters from school of visual arts in NYC, and up to this time, she has been a schoolteacher in the Bronx. Of course, art was her inner calling, however, as a young African American graduate it was difficult for her to get gallery representation. But, when she came to us, we were happy to give her an exhibition. Daryl is a super talented artist and we had tried to show her art last March, for woman’s history month, but we were unable to do to covid. And, our push to show her art to Harlem has been a story of perseverance and triumph, as she did not let covid stop her from setting up an amazing show.
How has Covid affected your gallery?
Covid has been very challenging for the gallery. We had only been open for 8 months, and then suddenly, we had to close for four months. Up until that point, the gallery had been very successful; we had many sales and we were very happy. As a result, when we were finally able to open, our work has been nonstop. The gallery has had exhibit after exhibit, and as a result, many people have come to see our showings. Although we were stretched thin financially, we could not give up, and we were determined to make it through. And, as you can see, we are still here.
Is there a final statement you would like to give?
We believe that the Kente Royal Gallery can be a beacon of the Harlem community, where anyone and everyone can come and see great African American art. We also hope that our gallery can be a model for a successful African American gallery. Our gallery should not be an isolated case, rather it should be a part of a group of African American galleries through the city, to bring true representation to African artists. And, if we can duplicate our gallery throughout the city that would frankly be amazing, not only for the art community, but the community at large.
The Kent State Gallery is a fabulous part of the Harlem community, and one would surely miss out if they do not visit it at least once. And, as you know, now is the perfect time to see fabulous African American art. On the 13th, Dodji is hosting the aforementioned exhibition at his gallery from 6-8 PM, and if you want to see great art over the weekend, we strongly suggest attending.